'Don't lift conditions on Evening Post deal' - NUJ

Evening Post: independent clause

 The NUJ has told the Government it is against any lifting of the conditions imposed on the Daily Mail and General Trust when it was allowed to buy Nottingham Evening Post publisher T Bailey Forman.

In a letter to the Department of Trade and Industry, the union argues the conditions should be maintained and even strengthened to stop DMGT producing one evening paper for the whole of the East Midlands.

Following a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry, DMGT was only permitted to buy T Bailey Forman by the Conservative Government in 1994 as long as it agreed to four conditions.

These were that the company did not re-enter the paid-for weekly market in the East Midlands; did not launch an East Midlands edition of the Daily Mail; agreed to set up an editorial board to maintain editorial independence at the Nottingham Evening Post; and promised not to distort or restrict competition in the region.

The deal was sensitive because of the dominance of DMGT’s regional newspaper arm, Northcliffe, in the East Midlands. Northcliffe already owned the Leicester Mercury, Derby Evening Telegraph and Lincolnshire Echo.

Last month, DMGT asked Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt to revoke the conditions imposed on the T Bailey Forman sale on the grounds that changes to the structure and regulation of the newspaper industry made them superfluous.

In the letter objecting to any changes, NUJ northern organiser Miles Barter says: "I have consulted with journalists working in the East Midlands and would like to inform you in the strongest possible terms that we believe the conditions imposed in 1994 should stay in place.

"Left unchecked, the Daily Mail and General Trust is in a position to exert undue influence over the culture and politics of a large part of central England."

Noting that the company owns daily papers in Stoke, Leicester, Lincoln and Derby, Barter claims: "These are distinct and separate communities with strong sporting rivalries and different cultural, political, and geographical outlooks. The latter point is best demonstrated by the difference between the Peak District and the flatlands of Lincolnshire."

He adds: "Journalists in the East Midlands fear that giving complete commercial freedom to the DMGT could result in the production of one paper for the region. This would water down the local culture, cut down on democratic debate within communities, provide a much worse service to readers and advertisers, and potentially hit hundreds of jobs."

The NUJ urges that the ban on DMGT launching a regional edition of the Daily Mail be "reinforced" by "also banning the launch of a regional evening paper".

Relations between Northcliffe and the NUJ have become strained, with the company seen as having taken a harder line than other regional groups in refusing to recognise the union.

By Jon Slattery

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